Every so often I set aside my political pen and pick up my story pen. I have been writing a little bit here and a little bit there over the years under the title, “Tailing Arvey Jones, Stories He Told Me To Tell You.” The following is one such story, and a lesson for myself that sometimes the old ways are far better than the new ways and I can thank my lucky stars that I didn’t end up dead while I was re-learning. So enjoy Chapter One of when I was much younger than and wiser than today.
Some of My Old Ways Are My New Ways Again.
Before arriving in Hartford years ago I lived way up in the Catskill Mountains in the town of West Hurley. The elegant shack that I called my home was built in 1906 and was part of what was known as the Maverick Art Colony. The Colony was founded by Hervey White, writer, socialist, social reformer and idealist who had become disillusioned with the art colony of Byrdcliff that he had helped build in Woodstock NY. I heard the tale that there were too many rules and regulations, no freedom and everyone was suppose to bathe often. So Mr. White went to the other side of Ohayo Mountain to a large farm, bought the land and woodlands and built a Utopian community that lasted until his death in 1944. According to historians life at the Colony was very rustic with very few amenities. A well wasn’t dug until 1915 as water was needed for the rapidly growing art colony. Like minded leftists, artists, and intellectuals joined White and the Maverick Colony. One of the most beautiful building still standing from the colony beside some houses in the woods is the Maverick Music Hall, standing as elegant as ever. Summer concerts are still held there. Check out the photo of the Concert Hall HERE. And HERE. To read up on Hervey White and the Maverick Art Colony go to Hervey White and the Maverick Art Colony. I am sure that many of the readers of this page will enjoy the little bit of history. In doing some research for parts of this article I came upon this wonderful story of two women Nan Mason and Wilna Hervey two influential Woodstock women who helped sculpt the local art scene in the early 20th Century. Again our people shaping and defining the culture in the forefront pushing the envelope meanwhile maintaining their dignity and not being ashamed of who they were. Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason, a same-sex couple who met in the early `20s, were responsible for reviving the Maverick Festival and kept alive from 1938 to 1962, paving the way for the Woodstock Festival of 1969. In the video below Curator Letitia Smith talks about these artists in Living Large. We must thank the Curator for giving us this wonderful exhibition of artists who we knew nothing about.
Charles Rosen Maverick Arts Festival 1928
To see other photos of festivals go to HERE.
Living out on the Maverick
Old Mountain Man Me in front of my Elegant Shack.
My shack and most people would call it a shack was the last shack going up the South side Ohayo Mountain. A shack yes but an elegant shack and beyond this elegant shack was the wild woods, the meadows, lots of rock formations, paths that went here and there, an old stone quarry, caves but no streams or ponds. (all the water ran down the other side of the mountain) My elegant shack was made like this, one, two, three four, five, trees halved as studs and rafters, vertical boards, horizontal boards, tar paper, cardboard, my living space. Of course it had a roof, a small loft, a large window (was built as an artist studio) a fireplace made from the stones gathered from the old quarry up near my wood cutting area and a large studio room for summer time art. (I wasn’t making art at that time I was living it.) My home was indeed quite an elegant shack as back in the day Hervy White and his crew of Utopian dreamers had built it and it was one of the few houses from the original colony. Running water, an indoor bathroom, a furnace or any modern conveniences that we are use to were not included.. Rustic, so rustic indeed that when the Great Northeast Blizzard of 1978 came roaring through I woke that morning to find snow all over my house. It was easy now to tell where I had to shove crumpled newspaper in the cracks between the house beams, the cardboard, the tar paper and the board to keep the outside out where it belonged. Crumpled newspaper plastered the cracks and did it quite well. I often thought that one wrong move with a match the whole place would go up in a second flat.
Goosey Bell came to visit once. Got an easel from the artist down the street, and painted this while standing nude outside in the warm afternoon sun. We love it as it is such a fanciful painting of a rather messy place. The head under the tree is a sculpture that Sandy an artist who stayed in the cabin did. There were heads all around the place and I told everyone that they were my watchful eyes.
Build an outhouse with plans from 1909.
I wondered where I would live then as the only other structure on the property was the outhouse and being only a one seater wasn’t big enough to store a crock of sauerkraut. This model has a door, the one I used did not. Wide open bare your ass to all the outside. Hang an old shower curtain up in the door when winter comes around. Maybe someday I will make a door a real door. One thing is certain one did not linger out in the outhouse in the dead of winter.
I learned quickly why the toilet seat wasn’t attached when I went out one morning my first winter as a mountain man, sat down and nearly froze my ass and if I sat there for any length of time a good layer of my ass skin would have been left behind. So every time when I finished out in the out house I took the seat in and stored it behind the wood stove. Electricity was the only convenience that kept me in touch with the world out there beyond the world of this mountain man. A wood stove was fine for heating my space, heating my bath water, cooking my food. In the summer months I used a hot plate. Talk about sawing wood, I used a old bow saw which lucky for me Manny sharpened, set up a wood sawing area (past the outhouse in the painting) and got to work. Susan said, “Better tag those dead trees now then when winter comes you’ll know what to cut.” On a trip to Kingston I found an oven that was placed on top of the wood stove and low and behold one could bake in it. It was an old metal box with racks inside, a door with a temperature meter on it and a little window to peek in at what was baking. On one of my journeys around the woods I found an old apple orchard that helped to keep me fed in the late summer, fall and early winter. For a short period I was living on applesauce and pancakes. What funny pancakes they were with no egg or milk in them. Try it sometime you will be glad you aren’t that poor.
Why this story? Recalling the old ways.
I met a woman named Susan who was to help change my life. Susan lived down through the woods at the end of Hart Presser Road. Now much of that part of the old colony of the Maverick was rebuilt in the 1930s and houses had been added during the years to reflect the growing needs and comforts of the younger artists that came to live here after the Maverick Colony had disbanded. The woman who owned the old studio where I lived had come to the colony as a young student with the Arts Student League and in the years after brought property, did over the rustic house where she lived, bought the old pottery studio and my studio way up on the hill. Susan was a transplant from California, who had come to the Woodstock festival, (which by the way was held in Bethel NY, only taking the name of Woodstock) and after 3 days of music and mud decided to stay in the area and moved into the woods of Bearsville. A year before I arrived she had moved to the Maverick at the invitation of one of her former teachers who owned a very modern studio way back in the woods. Susan was what we consider a wise woman, knew the ways of the forest, the animals, the rocks, the herbs, and all of the little “others” who populated our woods. (the little others, along with blue dots that zipped around and ”things that go bump in the night,” is a whole story that Arvey has promised to tell me soon.) Susan could smell trouble a mile or two away and I believe though she never told me that she had certain powers beyond any of us mere humans. She taught me how to weave a wattle fence back and forth, in and out went the branches to keep the animals out of my garden, (I used this method to build a meditation tepee shaped structure in the woods), tried to show me how to start a fire by rubbing sticks, never learned that trick, and how to tie some of the most handsome knots that were not only practical but could be useful in making art. I wheelbarrow-ed in some soil from a garden down near the pottery shed (this was up hill all the way, to bad I wasn’t going down with a full load) The soil worked fine in small areas and I planted some tomato plants, squash, beans and carrots. Now the waiting to eat, the weeding, the tending, and hoping began, fresh produce from the garden. There was never enough vegetables to put up for the winter months. But oh, that food was good in the summer and I enjoyed the little that I did grow.
Mountain man near the garden fence.
One of the things that Susan taught me and one of the things that during the past few years I have been working on to regain the knowledge is the practice of the healing herbs. I had been familiar with the healing herbs from my childhood when I hung out and helped my best friend’s grandmother who was a herbalist. I wish I had been older then as I would have paid attention better. One of the first plants I learned about was yarrow. I was starting to sniffle a bit and had a cough I knew I would be going down the hill fast and had to stop the cold in its tracks. Susan took her large pan, set a few quarts of water in it, added a good handful of yarrow and a table spoon of peppermint gave it a quick stir and turned on the heat keeping the mixture below a boil. In around 2 and 1/2 hours the medicine was done and was strained. She told me to drink a cup every half hour for the rest of the day. She also gave a me a brown powder that she told me would knock the cold out of me. Susan pointed out the book of Jethro Kloss “Back To Eden,” and in it there is a recipe for composition powder. Before going to bed that evening I drank a cup and 1/2 of the tea. The next day we did the same routine. By the 3rd day I began to feel much better and noticed that the cold had not spread to anywhere else in my body. I can attest to the wonderful healing work that yarrow and composition powder does. The composition powder is made from Bayberry, Ginger, White Pine, Cloves and Capsicum. Its taste is not at all disagreeable and a powder I always keep on hand today in my city apartment. Susan and I went to the meadows and wastelands all around West Hurley to collect the herbs that she would use for any of us and our neighbors if we became ill.
The large studio attached to my shack was turned into a drying room. I still have a good laugh when I think of the studio. It was built much later than the main house and the construction was far superior. The out side was built to match the house perfectly but constructed in such as manner that it had real insulation, real plywood for inner walls, and was built with a foundation of large stone from the quarry up a few miles in the woods. I often thought that I should move into the studio and live there. The woman who owned the property told me “that is how Sandy was, he thought more of his art than his creature comforts.” The studio had windows all around it that could be slid down to allow air to circulate, and the bottom half of the south windows were covered over to keep out the afternoon sun. We enlisted Manny a carpenter and Susan’s present boyfriend to build drying racks in the room and the log beams over head were used to hang the collected herbs. In this room hung, Yarrow, Tansy, Golden Rod, Peppermint, Basil, Parsley and Dill from Susan’s garden. Laid out on drying screens were Seed heads from Queen Anne’s Lace (got gas eat some seeds), red clover, plantain, mullein leaf, chickweed. Susan had always wanted to use the old studio as a Herb room and I thought it was a splendid idea. No one was using it for anything else at the time. We used the room off of the studio (the room had been Sandy’s sleeping room when he worked late) as a study were we would sit for hours drawing and coloring the herbs and learning about the wonders of healing from the meadows, woodlands, and waysides of West Hurley. Susan ‘s drying shed was then freed up and she began making her herb salves and other concoctions there. I earned a bit of money off of this as Susan gave me a cut for helping out from what she was able to sell in town. She was almost as poor as I was so I kept my distance from sponging off of her or accepting too much. I got jugs of fresh water at her house as she had a well and she sometimes made lunch to take out into the fields with us but both of us remained pretty independent but always there to help each other out if the need arouse. To me with no well on the property jugs of fresh water were worth their weight in gold.
Chapter Two will be coming up soon.